Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-139)



Mr O'Brien

  120. Are you saying that you can build your way out of congestion?
  (Ms Chipping) No; I may have been going on at quite some length but I had not finished the overall approach to dealing with congestion on the network which, apart from looking at other modes of transport, will also look at making better use of our network and in particular the Highways Agency is charged with having a more proactive role in terms of managing the traffic on the network. We intend to do that. We have a project to collect much more information about what is happening on the road network at any time, to feed that back to road users so that they will be able to plan their journeys in a better way. We have plans for setting up control centres around the network which will be continuously monitoring cars and therefore being able to give people information, help people divert onto other routes or whatever. It is very much a combination of approaches focusing including on junctions which are causing a lot of unnecessary difficulties. That is a very quick way of sorting out specific problems.

  121. Maintenance and repairs cause the greatest congestion.
  (Ms Chipping) We have also been carrying out a lot more of our maintenance overnight and the Department of Transport have recently collected some information to show that average speeds on roads have been increasing despite the general perception of congestion which we do need to deal with. One of the reasons for that is because the Highways Agency is actually planning its maintenance better. I am sure we can do even better but we are planning it so we carry out the maintenance at off-peak times.

  122. When do you expect to see improvements?
  (Ms Chipping) In terms of congestion, the target is to have reduced congestion by the end of the ten years—

  123. Ten years.
  (Ms Chipping) At the end of the Government's ten-year plan, which is 2010.

  124. So there will be nothing in the next eight years.
  (Ms Chipping) The target is by the end of that period. At the moment traffic is increasing on the road network. By the improvements we shall be making, some of them such as addressing junctions which we can do more quickly, some of the big schemes, for example widening stretches of the motorway, which will take longer and are likely to come towards the end of the ten-year transport plan period, at that point—

  Chairman: Excuse me interrupting but we have a lot of questions.

Mrs Ellman

  125. I want to establish the process whereby your links with regional organisations lead to improvements in access to ports. Is there co-ordination in road and rail links? Where is that done?
  (Ms Chipping) The co-ordination is very much done at a regional level. The Regional Transport Strategy, which is drawn up by the Regional Planning Body, will have been drawn up in consultation with the Highways Agency, with the Strategic Rail Authority, with local authorities, with all the people involved in transport provision in an area. It is not just about roads.

  126. Who will ensure that action is taken on the proposals which come from them?
  (Ms Chipping) Once the Regional Transport Strategy is drawn up, it is submitted to the Secretary of State, or particular schemes which are emerging as being those most desirable schemes if they are backed by the Regional Transport Strategy, and then it is for the Secretary of State to decide whether those schemes should go ahead. Once they are part of our targeted programme of improvements, our investment programme, then we ensure they are delivered as quickly as feasible.

  127. Are the schemes which are seen as important in the regions actually included in the ten-year plan?
  (Ms Chipping) At the moment, with the schemes which are coming out of the various studies, we look at the contribution they will be making to the congestion target I mentioned in the ten-year plan. It is early days yet in terms of people seeing schemes on the ground but in terms of planning ahead it does look as though there is a good match between schemes which are considered to be regional priorities and those which are part of the ten-year plan.

  128. What are you going to do to support Liverpool?
  (Ms Chipping) We shall be working with the region to look at what they consider to be important. There are some junctions on the M62 linked into Deeside which have already become part of the programme.

  129. May I turn now to the planning system? What problems are there in the current planning system concerning development of ports? Does it create any difficulties?
  (Mr Freeman) Not that we know of as such. We respond to our members' comments and when we are consulted we reply to that. I do not know of any major problems we have had apart from this particular issue at Dover at the moment with the new berthing and the lack of parking there. On other ports, I know of no problems we have encountered.


  130. Do you have some machinery whereby you can gather that information?
  (Mr Freeman) No, not really.

  131. So unless somebody specifically says to you so and so is an awful road and they are always sitting outside that port you would not really know.
  (Mr Freeman) No; indeed. Our information comes from our members. We are a very small organisation and it basically comes from our members and our regional areas.

Mr Stevenson

  132. In their published documents the Government recognise that there is probably a surplus of capacity in UK ports and development may have to be concentrated on a relatively small number of those ports. When you are considering in the Highways Agency planning your road programme, be it addressing pinch points or be it constructing new infrastructure, do you take that into account?
  (Ms Chipping) There are two strands to that. For ports which are there at the moment, in terms of developing what we call our core strategic network as opposed to those roads which are going to be de-trunked or returned to local authorities, when we were drawing up the core strategic network access to major ports was one of the criteria which we looked at. Of the 35 major ports which are listed in the Government's document "Focus on Ports", the top eight of those in England all have good access by trunk roads at the moment. Clearly this is not a static position. In answer to the question about whether we are aware of future potential, development, that is where we get information through our regional network and at an early stage we would be having dialogue with a region, we would be approaching local authorities and all of the regional players in that area who would be drawing our attention to the development needs of a particular port.

  133. That is perfectly understandable and required, but it is the national strategy towards port development. Mr Freeman and Mr Charlesworth, do you agree with the comments you have just heard about the top eight ports, the busiest eight ports being pretty well served by their road/rail infrastructure?
  (Mr Charlesworth) Not necessarily. There is quite a variation in the standard of road access to the major ports. Dover for example still has a single carriageway access to it on the A2, which is still frequently used, although the M20 is now the major route. I refer to that because I do come from that area. In other parts of the country, access generally could be improved, especially when compared to the access facilities that our continental partners have.

  134. Presumably you are discussing these issues with the Highways Agency and government departments.
  (Mr Freeman) At certain levels but not that frequently.

  135. Is there then a difficulty, to say the least, of co-ordination in terms of approach to the vital infrastructure which may be necessary to improve access to ports?
  (Mr Freeman) I personally would have thought so. An example was mentioned earlier of the signs and warnings which are absolutely essential. A project has been running for quite a while with the Highways Agency which we became aware of last week when I had to go down to Dover to a meeting and found out about this particular thing. I felt we should have been consulted perhaps a little bit earlier. That is now being put into place but there was a problem there, where it was presumably not thought at the time necessary to bring us in at that stage. Yet a lot of it is what the customer wants and needs.

  136. The purpose of my question was not necessarily to attract criticism about a particular project or a particular example you may come forward with, but to try to establish your opinion about the general principle and effectiveness of consultation and co-ordination with the different stakeholders in this very important area.
  (Mr Freeman) From our point of view it is difficult because there are so many different people involved in different areas. Our structure is totally different to that of the Highways Agency.
  (Mr Boud) When the Integrated Transport White Paper was published in 1998, it was recognised that the interface between land use and transportation was not as good as it should be. All the things which Hilary has been telling you about regional planning have been put in place to try to get this consultation and liaison and bringing all the stakeholders and road users into the process. It is working much better than it did three or four years ago but transport takes a long time to deliver.

  Mr Stevenson: In your collective opinion would a reduction in the number of ports we have in the country enable better planning and better investment in road and rail links? In other words, using a rifle not a scattergun.


  137. Does the Agency have a view on that?
  (Ms Chipping) We do not have a view specifically because we are here to provide—

  138. Do you have a rolling programme of research that affects major infrastructure like the roads running into ports and that does a number of different aspects of congestion? You did not mention congestion charges or management techniques or any of the things that might have a direct effect upon the movement of goods and chattels.
  (Ms Chipping) We are indeed developing a national strategy within the Highways Agency where we are looking at all of those issues. As I explained a number of times now, a lot of the planning structure at the moment is based on regions and regional priorities.

Mr Stevenson

  139. That is not the purpose of my question. I have heard that a number of times and you do not have to repeat it. That is fine, I fully understand that. The notion that here is the Highways Agency responsible for the road infrastructure, trunk roads and motorways—
  (Ms Chipping) Responsible on behalf of the Secretary of State.


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